Vets Take off from South San Francisco on cycling event
San Mateo County Times (10/01/10)
Often when a veteran returns home with an injury, the battle has just begun.
On Sunday morning, 200 veteran and civilian cyclists participating in Ride 2 Recovery’s Golden State Challenge will begin a feat some were told was impossible. Veterans having sustained physical and mental injuries will ride custom road bikes, handcycles and recumbents on the 450-mile cycling course starting in South San Francisco down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles.
Ride 2 Recovery has grown since it began with 15 riders in 2007. The Golden State Challenge will welcome veterans and civilians from around the world, including 10 riders from the Warrior Transition Unit in Germany. Sixty riders will be joining for the first time, while others complete all five or six events across the country each year.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, rehabilitation offered to returning veterans can greatly impact the rest of their life. The mental and physical rewards of cycling build morale and increase strength, Ride 2 Recovery organizers say. A low-impact form of exercise, cycling is available to veterans with a wide range of disabilities, and Ride 2 Recovery is starting a collaboration with the federal government on programs for wounded veterans.
This is good news for veterans like Dan Horndasch. Returning from service overseas a year before Ride 2 Recovery was created, he was frustrated by the lack of rehabilitation programs that were available. “Once the soldier is home, and the box is checked off, then what? What kind of outreach is there? What kind of continuing support is there?” he said.
Professional cyclist and veteran John Wordin is glad to offer his help. He founded Ride 2 Recovery after he was contacted by the VA Palo Alto Health Care System to start a physical therapy program for returning military personnel.
“It’s pretty amazing. We’re going to be integrated into mental and national military hospitals so every wounded warrior is exposed to this program,” Wordin said. “It’s a big deal for us.”
On the Tuesday before the ride, Wordin was busy assembling a bike for a victim of the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood. For those who cannot provide their own, Ride 2 Recovery puts together custom bikes for veterans participating in the event.
Success stories that have come out of R2R have inspired others to keep pushing.
“We’ve had guys who couldn’t walk that could suddenly walk better,” Wordin said. “Guys that were mental basket cases that didn’t think they had a future at all — then suddenly they have a future.”
The American Legion Riders will provide a motorcycle escort for cyclists on the course, with nightly dinners and community events along the way provided by the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary. The event is sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, with funds going toward rehabilitation programs helping more than 2,000 injured veterans. Participants say the Ride 2 Recovery experience is more than physical. It’s a testament to what all wounded soldiers have been through and proof that they can go on to accomplish what many deemed unrealistic.
Horndasch recalls a moment from last year’s trek, his first.
“You’re out there, and you’re suffering, and that climb is just not getting any smaller or any less steep. You’re suffering and hating life, and you look over and there’s Nate,” he said, referring to a double above-the-knee amputee who was riding the course using a handcycle. “He’s like, ‘Hey, man, how’s it going?’ You say, ‘You know what? He can do it, I can do it.’ ”
Horndasch, 37-year-old Army veteran, sustained multiple injuries during his two tours. In addition to being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and surviving some other “nicks and dings,” his L4 and L5 vertebrate have collapsed, pushing material from the lower disc into the right peripheral nerve and causing severe pain in the right side of his body. While driving a convoy in Afghanistan, an approaching vehicle used a nonlethal, laser device called a dazzler, which permanently damaged his left eye.
When he got home in 2006, Horndasch was offered group therapy. “We’re all gonna tell sob stories of how our lives suck now, and we’re all stuck in this room drinking bad coffee and eating stale doughnuts, making our lives suck even worse. I’m not having that,” Horndasch said.
Instead, he finds the relief he needs training and participating in the challenge.
“There’s (definitely) an unspoken language,” Horndasch said. “If you can tell a guy is struggling, you can go over and give him a hand on the back or just shoot the breeze with him to get his mind off what he’s doing.”
Horndasch said he enjoys being on the road without any cell phones, laptops or e-mails to cloud his focus.
“It’s group therapy along the California coast during the best time of the year,” he said. “I’m not looking at those pretty motivational pictures. I’m living it.”
On Sunday, cyclists will leave about 9 a.m. from the Holiday Inn San Francisco International Airport. Riders will have the option of taking a 70- or 90-mile course to Santa Cruz to complete the first day before continuing and finishing Oct. 9 with a concert at the Santa Monica Pier.
For more information, visit http://www.ride2recovery.com.
Food Stamps in San Mateo County Double
One of the nation’s most affluent counties, San Mateo has recently doubled the number of people getting taxpayer help to buy food. Today, more than 19,000 San Mateo County residents have received benefits used to put food on the table in over 8,400 households.
Following historically low enrollment, the county has retooled its approach to managing the county food stamp program, where the biggest enrollment jumps occurred in middle-income areas.
As unemployment in San Mateo County hovers near 10 percent, the county has seen a jump in the number of residents eligible for food stamps. Cities like El Granada, with a median annual income of $91,000 in 2000 have increased enrollment nearly eight times according to the county’s numbers.
Amanda Kim, Public Information Officer for San Mateo County said, “At a time when unemployment was at 5 percent things looked very different.”
Three years ago, Director of Human Services, Beverly Beasley Johnson addressed the Board of Supervisors to show that San Mateo was second to last in providing food stamps to the needy. According to the Food Policy Advocates in their Food and Nutrition Security Profile, San Mateo was providing food stamps to less than 20 percent of the actual number of poor people in the county in 2008; a trend they say existed for over a decade.
To be eligible for food stamps in San Mateo County, all adult residents in a household must meet the gross income eligibility requirements that start at $1174 for a one person household and increase $405 for each additional person. Recipients must show proof of residency, income, identification and be entered into a fingerprint database system.
The shame of using food stamps has gone down with the recession and the introduction of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards that are automatically loaded and used like a credit card at stores throughout the state.
But those who use food stamps, said people in line still stare. “You get stereotyped, just because you’re on food stamps, people think you’re lazy,” said East Palo Alto resident Jenel Jackson, “That’s never been the case for me.”
At 39, Jackson is a mother of seven children, including a five-month-old baby girl. She has been unable to work since April. After she suffered two brain aneurisms in July that left her unable to return to work after her maternity leave, she began the 30 day application process, which was completed in a couple weeks.
“I think it’s a good program, but I feel that some of the requirements don’t really match up,” said Jackson. “The income guidelines are set so if you go over by one penny you no longer qualify for benefits. They go by the gross income when that doesn’t come home.”
For Jackson, that means any amount above the $4,000 gross income guideline for her household of 10 would disqualify her family from receiving $736 in benefits each month.
County statistics show participants in the program are likely to spend an even greater amount than they receive in food credits on other household goods and services, such as repairing a car or replacing an appliance. “Since I have a large family I have to spend a lot of money on food. So if part of my budget is taken care of, I can spend money on something for the house,” said Jackson.
This means more dollars for local businesses and a boost for San Mateo’s economy. “There is a multiplier effect, because money not spent on food goes directly into the businesses,” said Public Information Officer Amanda Kim.
The county’s efforts to encourage enrollment have included events at public parks, and distributing pamphlets at school facilities and food banks to provide families with information at convenient locations. In addition, some county agents spent a week living off food stamps to learn the realities working with a limited food budget.
Despite a jump in enrollment county agents and food advocates said many eligible residents may not be applying for their benefits. They say access barriers still exist, including lack of awareness and the fingerprinting requirement, and are looking for ways to get eligible applicants to sign up.
Spokesperson for the State of California Social Services, Oscar Ramirez said, “to that extent we do agree. We’re always looking to see where we can work better. Something that isn’t working in San Mateo might not be working the same in Los Angeles County.”
According to the state social services website, approximately 2 percent of total requests for investigation into fraudulently filed applications are accepted in San Mateo County. The average number of requests has not seen an increase in the last three years in San Mateo County despite doubling enrollment and a statewide fraud investigation increase of 25 percent. Only five cases of fraud have been prevented during the last five years through fingerprint identification according to the county.
California is one of a few states that require applicants to go through a process of fingerprinting before determining eligibility.
“People are afraid they’re children won’t be eligible for student loans later,” said Senior Director of Programs and Services at 2nd Harvest Food Bank Cindy McCown, who also listed a fear of where the information goes as well as a difficulty in providing required documents on the list of common applicant concerns.
“I don’t see the correlation,” said Oscar Ramirez. “It prevents duplication of identification, and the thing is that there is fraud; it varies from county to county and from state to state but it prevents someone from simultaneously receiving aid in Contra Costa and San Francisco County.”
Still county workers see it as a deterrent. “It’s part of the stigma. Unemployment benefits have timed out, so now they have no choice but to turn to human services, and we don’t need to put barriers or restraints that cause people to not want to receive the help they need,” said Director of Human Services Beverly Beasley Johnson. “There are many families we need to reach that should understand this is an important benefit, particularly at a time when they need to save their precious dollars for other things.”
To apply or learn more about food stamps call the multilingual San Mateo County Food Connection Hotline at 1-800-984-3663, or download an application and get more information from the California State Food Stamps web site: http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/foodstamps/.